Irish American businessman Donald R. Keough, who died from pneumonia last week in Atlanta, was a generous donor to Notre Dame. Keough, the President and Chief Operating Officer of the Coca-Cola Company, was the former chair of the Notre Dame Board of Trustees. He established the Keough Institute of Irish Studies and, along with Irish businessman Martin Naughton, was the benefactor of Notre Dame's Dublin program, housed at the Keough-Naughton Notre Dame Centre in Dublin.
He is fondly remembered by the Notre Dame community.
Kevin Whelan, the director of the Dublin program, told the Notre Dame Observer that Keough was responsible for building a strong link between Notre Dame and Ireland.
“Don, when he was chair of the Board of Trustees, said that it was ridiculous for Notre Dame to be claiming to be Irish but to have actually no connection with the country,” Whelan said.
“So Don insisted, really, that Notre Dame reconnect with Ireland in the 1990s. And being Don, he didn’t just talk about it. He made it happen through generously supporting the establishment of an Irish Studies program in 1993.”
In 1993, Keough helped launch what is now the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies. He also worked to develop the Notre Dame study abroad program in Dublin, which opened in 1998.
Whelan said Keough was instrumental in the purchase and restoration of O’Connell House, the Georgian home of “The Liberator” Daniel O’Connell from 1809 until 1847, and now the home of the Notre Dame Dublin program.
Whelan said Keough, who helped to create internship programs for Notre Dame students in Ireland, was “constantly creating opportunities” for students.
“All the programs that we run — the undergraduate program, the Dublin summer program, the inside track immersion program, the internship program, many of the post-graduate endeavors that we now do — all of these bear the stamp of Don, and he was always willing to champion Irish Studies within the Notre Dame family,” he said.
“All of those things are the legacy of Don’s vision. We’ve only been on the go since 1998, but there have been well over 2,000 Notre Dame students in various Dublin programs,” Whelan said. “Now, the Notre Dame relationship with Ireland is very, very strong, and it’s multifaceted now. … There can be no question but that Don Keough was the main driver of the reconnection between Notre Dame — the Fighting Irish — and Ireland.”
“He met presidents and prime ministers and business leaders and people gave him all kinds of awards — all of that,” Whelan said. “But the thing that gave him the most pride — the thing that he was really proud of — was that he was able to create opportunities for young people.
“We always encouraged our students to write to him, and he loved getting letters from students. And he’d reply to them all individually. He loved being able to create transformative possibilities for young people in their lives, and I think that’s what he saw as his legacy.”
Senior Katie Brennan, an Irish studies major and Irish languages and literature minor, said the Irish Studies program has been essential to her Notre Dame experience.
“Notre Dame’s Irish Studies Department was one of the reasons I chose to attend Notre Dame, and through the program, I have been able to travel to Ireland multiple times throughout my years here,” said Brennan, who is also the president of the Notre Dame Irish Club.
“Through these programs, I have been able to learn a great deal about Ireland and Northern Ireland, which helped me discover and develop my interests in those places.
“Through my studies and research in Northern Ireland, partially funded through the Keough-Naughton Institute in the summer of 2013, I have discovered my next step in life following graduation — attending Queen’s University Belfast for an M.A. in conflict transformation and social justice. Not only have my experiences with Irish studies and study abroad taught me so much and given me incredible memories, but they also have helped to shape me into the person I am today.”
“Mr. Keough’s generosity has been so evident in all of my experiences with Irish studies. Not only did he help provide a strong financial base for the program, but he also supported it strongly, and that enthusiasm has spread into all aspects of the program,” she said.
“I wish I could have personally thanked him for all of the fantastic experiences he helped to provide me,” Brennan said.
Keough also played a crucial role in bringing Notre Dame football to Dublin to play against Navy in 2012. Whelan said it “was the single biggest mass movement of Americans into Europe outside of wartime, and which was a huge boost to the Irish economy and just an enormously successful occasion.”
Whelan said it was Keough’s deep care and passion for Notre Dame and Ireland that made the Notre Dame Dublin program possible.
“He was somebody who was in our lives in a very warm, positive, generous, supportive, encouraging way always,” Whelan said. “It’s been a wonderful journey, but I think Don deserves the credit for being the pilot and the navigator and the guy who made it all happen.”